Build Businesses That Solve Problems You Understand

Better for you and your customers to tackle problems you have experience with. If you come from nowhere with no expertise in the sandbox you want to play in, you’re at a severe disadvantage because you cannot directly empathize with your customers out of the gate and need to spend that much more time on research to catch up. You’re behind before you begin.

What problems have you suffered in life and have educated theories strong enough to beat them? If you move forward without an underlying passion to solve a personal problem, what then will continue to fuel your fire? How can you possibly stay excited about an idea you have no emotional attachment to – a problem you do not understand?

I’m not telling you not to stretch yourself. And I’m definitely not telling you to skip the research altogether and go for what you know. Understand, however, that jumping into a business blind comes with much higher risk and a harder path to pave. One in ten million people get lucky building something they do not understand and making a business out of it. Press your luck to be the one or press your experience to build something you care about instead.

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Do Not Build A Product You Don’t Use

What’s the point? How could you possibly believe in what you’re doing? How could you understand what you are doing? Or why you’re doing it? Or who you are doing it for? If you don’t use the product you’re building, how can you really understand the value it provides? The way it works and the way it doesn’t? How and where it fits in the marketplace? If you do not use the product you are building, how can you truly inspire your team to believe? Inspiration, relevance, and quality comes from the top. If you don’t do it, how can you expect anyone else to? How can you genuinely market to customers and ask them to? How can you build a successful business you’re not invested in?

Profiteering Is Not A Good Bet

Setting out to build a business or project for the money is a huge risk – a bigger risk than building something meaningful that can make the world a better place. What happens if you seek a capital return and come up dry? What do you have then? Sadly, you have nothing but a lot of wasted time and energy. What if you build something that makes a difference, but still does not pay out? At least then you can be proud of building something great. Never do things for the money – you have everything to lose. Do things for the challenge, the value to the world, and for yourself. Build something you can be proud of, something rewarding in and of itself.

Give Everyone A Piece of Leadership

Dan Pink makes a big deal about autonomy, mastery and purpose as the three key motivators for success. I agree with each one. As a manager, you should do everything in your power to give each member of your team a little piece of leadership. Whether that be a process to oversee, a special project to helm or oversight to a group of people, give each person ownership of something they like to do (autonomy). Best if you give them something they have room to improve in and master (mastery). Bonus points if they come up with idea for what they own themselves (purpose). If you can be a trusting person and want to help people succeed, let go and give people the power to direct their own lives as often as possible. When you give your team widespread authority, it becomes your job to keep all the chips on the table. Make sure everyone is on the same page when and where possible. Different leadership means different directions – do not let your leaders completely run away on their own, or you will have fragmentation and anarchy. If only as an experiment, surrender control over every little thing and award responsibility. You’ll be surprised with the results.

Why Fudge Your Own Numbers?

Data is good and can be very useful. Manipulated data is bad and can hurt you. What’s the point of collecting information in the first place if you’re going to mess with it? Your method of collection isn’t as accurate as you would like? You must stand behind the data you collected so far and move forward with another method instead. By adjusting numbers you’ve collected, you are misrepresenting the method or formula. Ethically better, I think, to publicly acknowledge a broken metric than stand behind massaged lies.

If the numbers are not for you and instead for someone else (boss, investor, customers, etc.), get to the bottom of why you want to change the numbers. If you feel the data misrepresents your business or project and worry that the numbers might throw you under the bus, it’s important to push back against the people asking for them in the first place. Again, better to admit a broken method than stand behind numbers that aren’t true. Honestly, I can think of no situation where it is ethically or practically appropriate to manipulate data you collected. It’s fine to do that in a budget or estimates, but actual cold hard data should not be toyed with. No one can learn anything from our lies except for the person with something to hide (or of course until the truth is revealed – don’t put yourself in that situation).

Be honest with yourself and your numbers. Don’t lie. Try a new formula instead.

Consolidating the Online Content Experience

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Marvel’s The Avengers raking in a $200M+ opening weekend leaves little room to tell Hollywood that they are doing it wrong. The 40-year old blockbuster model continues to pay for the movie business. In the early days, the cinema experience was not far removed from attending a Broadway show: dressing up and cozying into ornate movie palaces staffed by ushers and orchestras. To expand the experience, multiplexes cropped up everywhere. To augment the experience further, Hollywood learned to tentpole a film, merchandise it and open theme park rides. The cinema experience is larger than life.

While all of that may work for three or four titles, hundreds of motion pictures barely scrape by each year. The internet and a proliferation of choice in the new millennium continues to threaten the sustainability of the movie business. The entertainment industry as a whole keeps falling behind the times. They still depend on Nielsen‘s myopic ratings and surveys to make strategic market decisions. They collect little to no data on their viewers to leverage repeat conversions. They build no intimate relationships with their customers and create few opportunities outside the theater to communitize their content. They embrace an antiquated scarcity model by rolling content out onto different platforms across rigid windows weeks and months apart, thereby eliciting content access demand and piracy. Merchandise still sits on retail shelves or on random websites online, far from the experience of seeing the movie itself. Without update, these practices may be fatal. While box office may be up (due largely to increased ticket prices and 3D or IMAX premiums), attendance is down – even more painful when considering population growth.

All of these issues could be solved by incorporating a thicker web layer into and consolidating the filmgoing experience under one roof – literally and figuratively. By converging merchandise, community and content into a digital or real world platform, Hollywood could make all facets of their business more accessible and leverage entire catalogs toward a more scalable, niche-friendly or cost-effective practice. Loved the movie you just saw? The theaters should make it as easy as possible to leave the theater and impulse buy a plush or action figure of your favorite character. Imagine if you could buy merchandise from and connect with other fans on a movie’s page in Netflix? Organize public screenings or petition for a sequel with the masses online? The community layer would add to the consumer experience and give filmmakers a platform to understand how people engage with their work.

I love the movies. I love the theater. I want the industry to succeed. These issues are reparable. If the industry can recruit key talent from the web tech sector, surrender a century’s worth of logic around brick and mortar business practices, build relationships with consumers online and put storytelling first, there may be a glimmer of stability and hope for film professionals and moviegoers alike. We’ve got work to do. There’s plenty of stories to tell and opportunities to make a living by producing great content.

Burning The Midnight Oil

Sometimes you’ve just gotta do it. If you aspire to work hard, make a difference and get the job done, it takes sacrifices. Not all the time, of course, because that’s not sustainable. But every once in a while, all-nighters, hundred-hour weeks and late Fridays do the trick. If you are able to crumple up your to-do list at the end of the night and call it an accomplished day, very little feels better. Crumpled paper, a glass of wine and a sigh of relief. That’s the stuff.

With that, I’m leaving the office. Fifteen hour day. Suck it.